The View from India: EPL Mania

India’s sporting culture is not terribly evolved. For a nation of its population and potential, India is an athletic backwater with little cultural incentive to improve. Cricket is the major sport and it borders on a national obsession. But a new player is finally emerging: Football.

Football is not new to India. In fact around the turn of the last century during British colonial rule, Calcutta produced some top football sides, that were on their day capable of beating the top English sides: name clubs like Blackburn Rovers and Sheffield United. But Football soon died from the sporting landscape in India. Sure the World Cup was on, and sometime the nation’s attention was captured like in 1990 by the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon.

But it was the advent of cable television that moved football forward in the country. Cable did not become a mainstream product in India until the mid 1990s, about the same time the newly created English Premier League was exploiting the English language proficiency of many worldwide to promote itself.  Despite the formation of the domestic National Football League in the mid 1990s, India has fallen hook, line and sinker for the English game.

Last week here in India where I am on vacation, zero World Cup qualifiers were shown live. Zero Serie A matches were shown. Only one Bundesliga and one La Liga match were shown. However, Seven Premier League games were shown live, as were two Football League (Championship) matches and an SPL game. So between World Cup qualifying and Continental European leagues, two matches were shown live, while the leagues of the British Isles had ten matches shown live.

India has a strong anti-Imperialist streak especially among the older generation who lived under British rule. But as the younger generation falls prey to the growing desire of England to export its club football, they are becoming more and more Anglicized. Interestingly, you will not find an advertisement with non Premier League players in this country. The two most popular footballers are Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard. The two most popular clubs are Manchester United and Liverpool. Nobody else is even close.

For someone who prides myself on appreciating the world game, it has been tough to relate to those I speak to here. The only frame of reference they maintain is England. The only football they know is English. The only league they know is the Premier League.

I am sure India is not alone in this quandary. I have read that other Asian nations such as Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand all see domestic football waning and youngsters mad about English football. The Sun set on the British Empire after World War II, but a new empire is rising in its ashes, a sporting empire that is in the process of conquering the world.